According to the Office of the Burlington County Prosecutor, a youth pastor is facing multiple sex crime charges while serving as the youth pastor at Harbor Baptist Church at 2131 Marne Hwy, Hainesport, NJ 08036.
Sean Higgins, 31, was arrested in October 2020 after several victims came forward with similar stories, including sexual exploitation and blackmail. According to the report, Higgins was taking on the persona of a teen girl, sometimes under the fictitious name Julie or Julia Miller, on social media sites such as Snapchat and Instagram. He would encourage boys aged 12 to 17 to send him nude pictures. As soon as he received the explicit photos, Higgins would then threaten to send the photos to all the victim's friends if they did not facilitate his requests. Each of the boys was forced to perform sexual acts on themselves while being recorded by Higgins on the private chat. Many victims can be heard begging Higgins to allow the acts to stop.
Higgins was working as a youth pastor and music leader at the Hainesport Harbor Baptist Church when the sex crimes took place in 2020. Additionally, he taught at the private K-12 school, Harbor Baptist Academy, located on the same property. Investigators have identified at least 13 victims across many states, including New Jersey, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Michigan, South Dakota, and Tennessee. A grand jury has indicted Higgins on 75 total counts, including charges of Endangering the Welfare of a Child, Aggravated Sexual Assault, Criminal Sexual Contact, Cyber Harassment, and Obscenity to a Minor.
Attorney contributor Brian Kent is an experienced sexual abuse lawyer who represents victims of sex crimes in New Jersey. Brian recently shared his thoughts on victims’ rights to help them determine their legal options.
“Sadly, sexual predators are often found in positions of authority and trust, such as youth pastors and teachers. Churches have a legal duty to protect their congregation and take safety measures seriously. To uphold safety, they should ensure each member of the clergy has undergone a background check. Additionally, security measures within the church and school should include surveillance cameras, among other preventative measures.”
“When a youth pastor is arrested and charged with sex crimes, it is necessary to make sure the church did everything necessary to prevent victims within the congregation. Unfortunately, church security negligence can allow a perpetrator to use their position to lure victims. Victims should speak with an experienced sexual assault attorney to learn all their legal options. A church might be considered liable if sexual misconduct occurred by an employee due to negligence. Furthermore, if a church was aware of allegations of sex crimes yet did not report it to authorities, it could be held accountable. In some negligence cases, the victim and their family would have grounds for a civil lawsuit against the negligent church.”